It’s Good to be the Mayor
Building and running a city is pretty cool. You get to decide for yourself what people need, build the roads however way you like, determine what things to build, and designate where they can go. Not to mention you get to be the one to tax people for all their worth! In today’s world, being mayor is not so different from being king, and as we all know, it’s good to be the king.
And in Happyville: Quest for Utopia, you can finally see what being a mayor and city planner is all about! Granted, the “town” you get can barely qualify for even being a zone of civilization, but that’s what you get for entering a career in politics through the classified ads, rather than through the usual political channels. But you’ve got a lot of freedom to determine this little burg’s development. With some skills in budgeting, management, planning and empathy, you might just turn a former dive into utopia…assuming, of course, you can stay in office long enough.
If the name wasn’t enough to clue you in, Happyville carries with it a very easygoing style. The graphics may not be much, but they’re bright, colorful, cartoony and charming all around. Buildings are fairly detailed and easy to identify, even when the screen is zoomed out. Simple cutscenes are used to display special events; during an election, a television news report will count the poll numbers, and the classic spinning newspaper announces other events in your city.
Best of all, people flit around the screen like ants. It’s a lively enough scene and the fact that every single person has their own name, job and house further adds to the charm.
Sound is handled just as well. The music won’t stick with you for long, but it carries on an inoffensive and laid back beat. Sound effects are the same way. Hovering your mouse over a building will have the game emit a fitting sounds clip. For example, you’ll hear a police radio for the police station, and some cheering kids for the school. Similarly, NPCs will voice a short comment that can give you an idea of what kind of mood they’re in before you look at any of their statistics. All in all, sound is put to good effect.
The most alluring thing about Happyville: Quest for Utopia is that you really do get to build your city from scratch. All you’ve got at the beginning is your personal office building, a handful of dissatisfied citizens, and a few hundred dollars. In order to get things up and running, you need to make sure that your people have all the basic necessities covered: food, shelter and jobs. Food you get by establishing farms, shelter is provided by building houses, and jobs are provided by setting up business lots where your entrepreneurial citizens may set something up.
You’ll also need to build civic centers, like schools to educate children, police stations to help everyone feel secure, and hospitals to increase the lifetime of residents in the surrounding neighborhood. And most of all, you’ve got to build roads to keep everything connected.
Happyville does not necessarily have a mission-based structure to it. Rather, you’re periodically given new goals as you accomplish old ones. The idea behind this is subtly encourage you to keep on expanding your city, adding new amenities as you can afford them, and providing for the steadily increasing population. The overarching goal in the game is right there in the title; to get a large and happy enough population that the city achieves the title of “Utopia.”
Appealing to the Masses
Getting there isn’t going to be easy, of course, because on top of the aforementioned needs, you’ve also got to keep your constituents happy. Unhappy citizens will eventually get fed up and leave for greener pastures. And if enough people are unhappy with you, they’ll throw you out of office once the next election swings by. So you have to pay close attention to their wants. Some people want specific jobs, while others want certain services provided in their area, and by golly, they won’t be happy until they get them!
Trying to please everyone sounds like it could be a hassle, but it’s easier than it sounds. You don’t need to check on each individual citizen, you just need to look at their houses. If the house is vibrant and colorful, then you’re good to go, the family living there is perfectly satisfied with the current state of things. If the house’s coloration is drabber or even gray, however, then there’s something missing in the residents’ lives. Hovering your mouse over the building will show you just what they need to feel complete.
Happiness can also be improved by building certain things, such as structures, including trees, theatres and monuments. You’ll also occasionally receive messages asking for donations to certain causes which can effectively buy you some satisfaction as well.
Not All That Satisfying, Though
Unfortunately, though the process of ensuring a happy population is easy, there are a lot of issues that make it more difficult that it has any right to be. The most prominent is the fact that you don’t have the ability to decide what kind of businesses to construct. All you can do is set aside some plots of land as “business lots,” where a business will be chosen by the game based on the demand of some citizen or other. Needless to say, this can be annoying; you might set up some lots in areas where people are requesting daycare centers and grocery stores, only to get a couple of restaurants instead.
Furthermore, even if you do get the correct amenities up, citizens’ AI may refuse to register they even exist. It’s not an uncommon occurrence for someone to want a hospital in their neighborhood when one is right next to their house!
And even when the game’s mechanics and AI isn’t mucking things up, there’s the clear fact that it really is hard to stay on top of everything. New arrivals always come to your town, either as migrants or newborns, but it happens so fast that you won’t know you’ve accumulated an overly high number of sad homeless people until you check your statistics tab. The game does have an adjustable speed, but even on the lowest setting, it’s easy to get overwhelmed simply because this information isn’t readily available to you.
Conclusion - A Long Way From Utopia But Still Fun
Ultimately, Happyville has some deep flaws that cause it to not quite hit the mark it could have. This is a shame, because it provides such a nice sandbox to construct a city of which you have near complete control over in terms of looks and functionality.
In any case, while it’s not the best city simulator out there, it’s charming and can easily eat away the hours in your day if you’re willing to put up with its issues.
Review by David Galvin
Dave Galvin is a freelance writer and avid gamer. Somehow, he managed to find a way to combine the two passions.
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